Jeramey Jannene

Kia, Hyundai Thefts Now National Problem

Chicago's auto thefts up 767%, Seattle up 620% as Milwaukee's scourge spreads via social media.

By - Aug 17th, 2022 12:51 pm
A Kia parked on a City of Milwaukee street. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Kia parked on a City of Milwaukee street. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

An epidemic of stolen Kia and Hyundai vehicles is no longer just a Milwaukee problem.

The social media video platform TikTok has finally done what many long expected would happen: spread the issue to other cities. The “Kia Boyz” phenomenon is now a Milwaukee export.

Rear windows in the vehicles can be broken as they are not connected to the alarm system. More sophisticated techniques involve prying out the window. Once inside the vehicle the steering column plastic panel can be removed with a screwdriver and the vehicle can be started by using a USB cable to turn over an exposed ignition. Vehicles can be stolen in a couple of minutes.

Milwaukee first started experiencing the problem in fall 2020. By 2021, more than two-thirds of vehicles stolen in Milwaukee were made by Kia and Hyundai and more than half of the thieves caught were children. The city had more vehicle thefts than Chicago.

Now Chicago is catching up. Year-over-year vehicle theft in the Windy City is up 767% according to CBS.

The Seattle Police Department reports a 620% year-over-year increase. Omaha reports a 600% increase. In St. Petersburg, FL 41% of vehicles stolen are made by Kia or Hyundai. Vehicle theft in Norfolk, VA spiked 35% in one month. Progressive is declining to insure the vehicles in Denver, the one city Milwaukee officials previously identified as experiencing the problem. Thefts in Denver are up 160% from 2018.

A search of Google News for “Kia theft” gives what appears to be an endless stream of news articles about theft increases.

There appears to be a learning curve still to come for those cities. Many of the reports suggest parking in well-lit areas. But that hasn’t stopped theft in Milwaukee. Vehicles have been stolen in broad daylight Downtown because of the ease and speed from which they can be taken. Others suggest not leaving USB cables in vehicles (despite the fact thieves can easily carry one in a pocket) or removing valuables from the vehicles (many of the stolen vehicles are used for reckless joy riding).

Milwaukee is now rolling out bait cars and a vehicle sticker program in an attempt to slow the problem.

Vehicles vulnerable to theft are those without an immobilizer in a chipped key (an immobilizer is found in push-button ignition setups common in new vehicles). The vulnerability is present in many Kias made between 2011 and 2021 and Hyundais between 2015 and 2022.

Kia and Hyundai both have donated free steering wheel locks to the Milwaukee Police Department for distribution, but social media is littered with posts of people who have had their vehicles broken into and the locks removed. Similarly, owners of vehicles with immobilizer keys or stick shifts have seen their vehicles broken into, but not driven away.

Now at least one of the automakers has pledged a potential solution. Hyundai said it will begin distributing a kit from Firstech/Compustar that disables the ignition if the alarm is triggered. None of the media accounts of the kit acknowledge if it would address the windows not hooked into the alarm system.

In Milwaukee, entrepreneur Jon Goldoff offers a $150 phone-based solution that functions as a Bluetooth kill switch. It won’t stop your car from being broken into, but it will prevent it from being stolen.

The Milwaukee Police Department is expected to brief the Common Council’s Public Safety & Health Committee when the council resumes meeting in September.

A class action lawsuit against the manufacturers is still pending in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, one of what are now many such suits across the country.

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More about the Kia and Hyundai Theft Epidemic

Read more about Kia and Hyundai Theft Epidemic here

Categories: Public Safety

2 thoughts on “Kia, Hyundai Thefts Now National Problem”

  1. CraigR says:

    You’d think these brands would be more reactive to this negative publicity. Who would want to buy a new car from either brand? Even if newer models don’t have this issue, you would expect some kid will still break the rear window and give it a try. The only solution is a big recall to correct the problem.

  2. nickzales says: A lot of talk at City Hall and no action. I thought the class action filed in Circuit Court was removed to the federal court. In any case, the City could have been suing to fix those cars for free via a recall or the like and recoup the money spent on dealing with these stolen cars.

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